In a packed Castelão, Fortaleza easily beat Corinthians and is the second northeastern team to reach a continental final.
Photo: Mateus Lotif/FEC
Corinthians 1×1 Fortaleza (first leg)
In the first-leg match at Neo Química Arena, the game had its initial minutes without many thrills, during which the teams were sizing each other up and not creating any dangerous chances.
First, Fortaleza made a move on the left at the 7th minute. Bruno Pacheco crossed the ball into the area, and Pochettino took an unmarked shot but missed.
Corinthians responded at the 11th minute. Fagner made a good play through the middle and passed it to Giuliano, who shot it straight into the middle of the goal for an easy save by João Ricardo.
At the 21st minute, Fortaleza opened the scoring through an aerial play, the team’s specialty. Marinho took a corner at the near post, and Zé Welison appeared between the defense to head the ball. Cássio managed to make the save, but the ball went in. Initially, the referee signaled a foul by Zé Welison on Fábio Santos, but after a VAR review, it was observed that there was no irregularity, and the goal was awarded.
Corinthians equalized at the 40th minute. Fagner nutmegged Welison and left the ball for Renato Augusto, who delivered a precise pass for Yuri Alberto to enter the area and strike accurately across the goal.
In the last play of the first half at the 49th minute, Renato Augusto crossed the ball to Wesley behind Zé Welison. The winger headed it towards the corner, and the goalkeeper palmed it away.
In the second half, at the 8th minute, Yago Pikachu came close to scoring a fantastic goal. Tinga took a throw-in for Guilherme, who set it up for Pikachu at the edge of the box. The midfielder took a first-time shot, and the ball narrowly missed the crossbar.
At the 15th minute, Tinga seized a loose ball from a cross and attempted a bicycle kick, but Cássio saved it. In the following minute, Pikachu tried a long-range bomb, but Cássio caught the ball again.
In injury time, at the 46th minute, Tinga advanced down the right and crossed. Pikachu controlled it, the ball bounced up, and he chested it for another Cássio save.
With the draw, coach Vanderlei Luxemburgo couldn’t withstand the pressure and was fired.
Photo: Mateus Lotif/FEC
Fortaleza 2×0 Corinthians (return game)
In the return match, Fortaleza played in front of their home crowd at the Castelão stadium, with more than 59,000 fans (the largest attendance in Ceará football in 2023), and they dominated Corinthians from start to finish.
Now under new management, Mano Menezes tried to make changes and transform Corinthians, but they couldn’t match the long-established work of Vojvoda.
Just two minutes into the game, Pikachu took a shot, and the ball hit Lucas Veríssimo’s arm, but the referee allowed play to continue. After a flurry of corners and blocked shots, the Lion had opportunities with Yago Pikachu at the 12th minute and Lucero at the 14th.
However, it was Corinthians who created the first clear chance. Moscardo stole the ball and passed it to Renato Augusto, who provided an exquisite pass to Yuri Alberto. The striker went one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but he shot it right at João Ricardo at the 19th minute.
At the 36th minute, Caio Alexandre found Pikachu inside the box, and he unleashed a powerful low shot, which Cássio saved brilliantly, and Gil cleared it for a corner. From the corner kick, Brítez rose above the defense and headed strongly, but Cássio, well-positioned, made the save.
At the 40th minute, Pikachu attempted a cross, but the ball deflected off Fábio Santos’ head and nearly caught Cássio off guard, but he managed to palm it away. On the rebound, Fortaleza had three shots from inside the box, but all of them were blocked by Corinthians’ defenders.
After much persistence, Fortaleza opened the scoring early in the second half. At the 4th minute, Lucero’s shot was blocked by Gil, Titi won the aerial duel against Lucas Veríssimo, and Yago Pikachu slipped but still managed to turn past Fábio Santos and place the ball into the net, putting the Lion in front.
Photo: Kid Jr./SVM
Fortaleza expanded in the 9th minute. Bruno Pacheco took the corner and the ball came back, so the full-back crossed again. In the second half, Tinga appeared alone and didn’t even need to jump to head and score Lion’s second goal.
Foto: Alexandre Lago/Agif
Corinthians attempted, in a desperate manner, to reduce the score; however, with a comfortable lead, Fortaleza managed the outcome. The Timão took long-range shots and delivered numerous crosses, but they failed to create clear opportunities, except for one chance with Yuri Alberto, already at the 49th minute, in which Veríssimo nodded the ball inside the box to the striker, who struck it straight at the middle of the goal, for an easy save by João Ricardo.
With the final whistle, celebration erupted in the city of Fortaleza, and the fans who had seen their team in the Serie C six years ago can now celebrate that their team is in the final of a continental competition. A historic moment for the club and for Northeastern football.
With the victory, the Lions secured a well-deserved and unprecedented spot in the final of the 2023 Sudamericana, and they will face either LDU (Ecuador) or Defensa y Justicia (Argentina) at the Domingo Burgueño Miguel stadium in the tourist city of Punta del Este, Uruguay.
Written by Henry Miller.